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Point & Shoot Camera -vs- The iPhone 5: Do You Still Need a Camera?

The iPhone5 and its improved camera, along with the abundance of other smart phone cameras that are available today, makes a person wonder if the need for a point and shoot camera still exists. To answer this question we put the “rumored best” smartphone camera in the U.S., the iPhone5 camera, up against three, lower-priced point and shoot cameras to see how they compare when it comes to taking pictures.

Pros and Cons of Smart Phone Photography

  • One pro in the smart phone camp is the convenience of having a camera on hand at all times for those once-in-a-lifetime snaps you’d otherwise miss. But is a smart phone camera adequate to meet the needs otherwise filled by a dedicated camera?   Clearly, true photographers will notice and appreciate the image quality difference between the iPhone’s camera and a point and shoot camera.
  • Feature sets, in other words the measure of control offered, is a key difference between a dedicated camera and that which exists in a smartphone.  The Iphone5’s camera is well-regarded as a smart phone camera but, photographically speaking it is one of the simplest smart phone cameras out there.
  • Sensor size and the quality of the lens both make a significant difference in image quality and smart phones have small sensors as do most of the lower cost point-n-shoot cameras.  Paying for a bigger sensor and better optics (lenses) is worth the money if picture quality is important.
  • Wifi – your smart phone offers the advantage of instantly being able to upload your pictures but cameras are increasingly offering this feature too.

Apples to Apples

The point and shoots we compared ranged in price from $99.99 to $159.99.  We opted for this low price range as many who would opt for a smart phone over a point and shoot may be cost sensitive, thus they question the value of owning a camera. To be as fair as possible, the images were all taken at the same time of day and were lined up as close as possible to get the best results. The inside of the grey circle is the image zoomed in at 200 percent to show the up-most detail of each camera and each photograph had its levels taken up a notch in Photoshop to show better distinctions between them.

Here’s a look at the comparison:

Macro taken with the Olloclip macro lens and an iPhone 5
Macro taken with the Olloclip macro lens and an iPhone 5

As you can see the iPhone 5 has a decent camera for a phone. The colors are similar, the contrast in the iPhone is darker. Graininess is most visible on prints from the Nikon (which has a similarly sized sensor)  but the iPhone’s image is very similar in quality. However if creativity is your goal, the Nikon offers a much better feature set as the iPhone5 has a very simple camera that  is limited to what it can capture and do for you as a photographer. First of all Iphone images are not well suited for enlargement, the picture quality will start to diminish in quality the bigger you go. This can cause problems if you really want to make prints larger then a 5×7, due to the lack of megapixels and the limits of the optical zoom that the iPhone5 has. Secondly if you are stuck in a situation of low lighting, say the night life scene, the iPhone5 will not be able to capture a nice well exposed/lit photo because the ISO range is limited and  it does not have a night shooting mode or manual ISO adjustments like a point and shoot.

The iPhone5 camera’s image limitations can be somewhat improved with apps that allow filters and effects to be added to photos or that allow some basic editing to pictures directly on the phone before uploading to social media sites. Popular apps for this are Instagram, Camera +, Hipstamatic, and PS Express, each has its own strong point but they all allow you to add filters or edit photos.

For iPhone owners who want additional creative options on their iPhone there are accessories that allow you to physically add lenses, filters or different effects to your photos taken on the iPhone. I grabbed two of the accessories to see how they work. The first accessory tested was the Holga Lens & Filter Set, which includes 10 different filter effects on one device and costs $34.99. The other iPhone accessory I tried was the Olloclip 3-in-1 Lens System which includes a fish eye, macro and wide angle lens all in one little device and is priced at $69.99.

In Summary

A point and shoot offers more control for set up of a photo and offers most of the basic features that the iPhone5 camera is missing such as: an optical zoom, more megapixels, self timer, exposure adjustments, flash modes, image stabilization, shooting modes, filter effects, continuous shooting, metering, manual setting, ISO sensitivity, F-stop and shutter controls, focus settings, editing features, image quality settings, image size settings, white balance, color options and some even have filter effects built in.

If  you don’t mind adding apps and carrying around creative tools like lenses and filters, you can have a lot of fun with an iPhone, and it is always handy in your pocket for those surprise photo opportunities.

Here are the details and specifications to the three point and shoot cameras we compared to the iPhone5:

Iphone5 has 8 megapixels, an F-stop of 2.4, 1/3.2” image sensor, digital zoom and a new panorama mode. Current price is at least $199.99 depending on the phone company and contract chosen.

Olympus TG320 is a waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof and dustproof camera. 14 Megapixels, an 1/2.3 Image Sensor, 3.6X Wide Angle Optical Zoom/4X Digital Zoom, 2.7” LCD Screen, 720P HD Movie, F 3.5-5.1, ISO 80-1600, 19 Shooting Modes, 8 Filter Shooting Modes, Continuous Shooting and dimensions of 3.8″ x 2.5″ x 0.9″. Current price $159.99.

Nikon CoolPix S01 is the most compact point and shoot camera out there. 10.1 Megapixels, 1/2.9 “ CCD Sensor, 3X Zoom/4X Digital Zoom, 2.5” Touchscreen LCD Screen, 720P HD Movie, F 3.3-5.9, ISO 80-1600, 7 Scene Modes, 5 In Camera Image Editing, and Dimensions of 2.1” x 3.1” x 0.7”. Current price $129.99.

Canon PowerShot A4000 IS is a chic A-series camera with a 28mm wide angle lens. 16 Megapixels, 1/2.3” CCD Sensor, 8X Optical Zoom/4X Digital Zoom, 3” LCD Screen, 720P HD Movie, F 3-5.9, ISO 100-1600, 12 Shooting Modes, 4 Filter Shooting Modes, Continuous Shooting, and Dimensions of 3.75”x 2.22” x 0.96”. Current price $99.99.

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